E-Newsletter Layout: Three Things that Should Appear in the Preview Pane View

By Jeanne Jennings
Consultant, Email Marketing Strategy (

I’m not a designer – but whenever I develop an e-newsletter strategy for a client I always include a wireframe. I’m not so concerned about the colors and images they use; I’m more concerned about the placement of content, especially in the preview pane view.

The preview pane view is your prime real estate. It can be the difference between engaging recipients to read your newsletter – and having them move on without even looking.

According to Marketing Sherpa, over 80% of business people and more than 50% of consumers turn on the “reading pane” or “preview pane” in their email client. The majority, over 75%, are using a horizontal, rather than a vertical preview pane. Here’s what a horizontal reading pane looks like in Outlook:

There’s one more statistic you need to take into account when thinking about your preview pane – image blocking. Again from MarketingSherpa, only 33% of those surveyed have images turned on by default. Most email clients block images by default – here’s an example of what this newsletter looks like in the preview pane with images blocked:

Do you know what your email newsletter looks like with images blocked? You should. Many companies use a large “hero image” at the top of their e-newsletters. This plays well on a Website, but not so well in email. With images blocked all your recipients will see is a box with a small red “x.”

Alt tags, which are a good idea, aren’t an answer to this. Many emails clients (including Outlook, you can see it here) put copy next to the red “X” to explain why the image isn’t appearing. Your alt tag will appear in the same text as this message – just after it. It gets lost in the mix. Better to design your e-newsletter so that, even with images blocked, there is content here to engage readers.

Here are three things that should appear in the preview pane view of your email newsletter:

1.    Branding

Most companies do include their logo at the top of their email newsletters. That’s good. But you need to also include your brand name in rich text format, so that if images are blocked people can still see that it’s from you.

In the example above, the church is featured prominently in the newsletter’s name (“Greetings from Grace”). In addition, we include it, along with contact information, in smaller type below the headline.

In this instance we’ve also included full contact information, since the church is primarily a brick-and-mortar (not an online) institution. For most of my primarily online clients this information would not be here.

In an admittedly unscientific study of 20 email newsletters that are currently in my inbox (I omitted those from organizations that are my clients), only 35% had non-image branding in the reading pane. This is so simple – and yet so often overlooked.

2.    Benefit-oriented Headline Specific to this Issue

Give the reader a reason to read your email now – not later. Tell them why it will be time well-spent.

The headline here “In this Issue: Holy Week, Friends of Grace Spring Gala, Rector’s Sabbatical and More!” does that. Note that it’s not a strict restatement of the subject line (although the key benefit, the Holy Week schedule, is listed in both) – it adds to the subject line to give people additional reasons to read.

Looking at 20 email newsletter in my inbox, only 15% provided me a headline of any kind to entice me to read their email newsletter. Again, so simple – but often overlooked.

3.    Link to View the Email Online

Since most email clients are now HTML-friendly, this link doesn’t get a lot of use. But with the increased reading of email on mobile devices, it’s more important than ever to include it.

It doesn’t have to be right at the top, anywhere in the preview pane is fine. But it should be here. Probably because most email service provider automatically append it at the top, compliance tends to be higher. A full 55% of email newsletters in my inbox gave me a link to view online.

Take a look at your email newsletter, with and without images, and see if these three key elements appear in the reading pane view.

In my next article I’ll be talking about the “above the fold” section of your newsletter and what should appear here to further engage readers and pull them in. For even more on laying out your e-newsletter to optimize engagement, join us at the E-Newsletter  World Unconference in May.


This originally appeared as part of our Vitamin E e-newsletter for e-newsletters. All the articles:

e-Revenue: 6 Ways to Improve Your Ad Sales e-Newsletter

E-Newsletter Layout: Three Things that Should Appear in the Preview Pane View

Top 5 e-Newsletter Elements to A/B Split Test

How to Use Video to Increase e-Newsletter Revenue

Carl’s Capsules: Top 10 Reasons to Attend the Unconference

E-Newsletter of the Month: Condé Nast’s GQ Pulls off a Daily e-Newsletter with Simplicity, Style, and Sales Savvy


Re-run: Mastering QR Codes to Increase Subscriptions

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